Physical activity levels and body weight in a nationally representative sample in the European Union

Public Health Nutr. 1999 Mar;2(1A):105-13. doi: 10.1017/s1368980099000154.


Objectives: The main objectives of this pan-European study were: (1) to identify different types of physical activity and the time devoted to them, (2) to assess physical activity/inactivity at work and in leisure time, and (3) to determine self-reported body weight and height.

Design and subjects: In each member state of the EU, approximately 1000 adults, aged 15 years or more, were selected to participate in an interview-assisted face-to-face questionnaire on physical activity and body weight. In each country, sample selection was quota-controlled to ensure national representativeness. Overall, 15,239 subjects in the EU completed the study.

Results: On average in the EU, nearly three-quarters of the population participate in some kind of activity. In general, the highest proportions of participants were found in the Nordic countries and the lowest in the southern ones. At the European level, the five most common activities include walking, gardening, cycling, keep fit and swimming. Higher participation rates were found among men, younger subjects and those with a higher level of education. The majority of Europeans fall within the normal body mass index (BMI) range but more than one-third are overweight (31%) or obese (10%) and 11% have a BMI below 20.

Conclusions: Several risk groups related to physical activity emerge from this survey: women, those with a lower level of education, older subjects, the overweight/obese and the underweight. Programmes to promote physical activity need to be tailored to the different groups identified in each country/region in order to increase adherence of non-participants and for the maintenance of those already engaged in activities.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • European Union / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Perception
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors